Hello, Rain!

The drought isn't over but it's looking better

‘Tis the season to be jolly, not just because it’s the holidays, but because of all the rain we’ve received this month. Since Dec. 8, Mother Nature has delivered us a series of late autumn storms followed by a significant atmospheric river on Dec. 11. This “river in the sky” has increased storage in our local water supply reservoirs, bringing Lake Mendocino up to 66 percent of water storage capacity from 45 percent earlier this month, and Lake Sonoma to 70 percent, compared to 55 percent.

In terms of rainfall, our region (the Santa Rosa Basin) had only received 40 percent of average before the storms, but since the deluge, our region is at 158 percent of average, or 13.33 inches since Oct. 1. That’s a lot of numbers thrown at you all at once, so let’s get down to the bottom line: we can’t declare that the drought is over just yet. But the rain has certainly taken the edge off the drought, and we are headed in the right direction. What do we need to get out of this drought? Three things:

1. We need above average rainfall to continue into the winter and spring months (36 inches of average rainfall in Santa Rosa, for example).

2. Timing of rainfall is critical. We need a steady stream of rainfall through spring, not one large storm, due to how lakes Mendocino and Sonoma are operated under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s flood control operation manual. (See “Reservoir Cogs,” Dec. 3.)

3. Save what we get. The rain we do get needs to be saved in case we don’t get any more this year. Keep up those conservation habits and turn off that irrigation system!

What we don’t need: December 2012! That month saw heavy rainfall fill our reservoirs, followed by an extremely dry winter and spring; i.e., the drought.

For now, appreciate the rain. It’s a good thing, and we need more of it. But please don’t stop those water-conservation habits. We need to save every drop. Stay up to date on drought conditions at www.sonomacountywater.org or follow us on Facebook.

Shirlee Zane is director of the Sonoma County Water Agency and a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

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